BUSHFIRE THEATRE OF PERFORMING ART HISTORY
Founded in 1977 by Al Simpkins, Bushfire Theatre of Performing Arts bought the old Locust Street Theater that dates back to 1909. The theater, purchased in 1980 is located at 52nd and Locust Streets in West Philadelphia. The historically designed building was once a vaudeville house turned movie house. When we arrived the structure was abandoned and in disrepair. It is now a 428 seat performing arts space. In 1981, the Board of Directors developed a five year plan to acquire three adjoining abandoned buildings, an artistic strategy to present world premiere plays, develop new professional actors and a playwrights workshop. The buildings were acquired in 1983 and 1984 and Bushfire has renovated all of its facilities through internal resources and the support of the immediate community. Our goal to become a professional theatre was achieved in 1983 when we became members of Actors Equity Association. Our objective to provide African American artists with professional theatre opportunities has been ongoing since 1985 and we have satisfied a major goal of providing the West Philadelphia community with a professional theatre. Bushfire is now considered amongst the oldest inner city professional theatre companies. In 1983, the 52nd Street Writer’s Workshop was established with assistance from writers such as Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Fuller, Rufus Caleb and the late Billy Graham. The 52nd Street Writer’s Workshop continued to grow and developed a close relationship with the late director Lloyd Richards, playwrights Jeff Stetson, P. J. Gibson, Judi Ann Mason, Richard Wesley and the late Matt Robinson. In 1994, Bushfire with the help of P. J. Gibson, Kathleen McGhee Anderson, Pearl Cleage, and Clyde Santana developed the Playwrights Think Tank Symposium. Annually, African American playwrights come to Bushfire to discuss issues important to their craft. From the Playwrights Think Tank Symposium began the Langston Hughes Playwrights Workshop. In August 2008, we continued our annual Langston Hughes Playwrights Workshop.
The mission of Bushfire Theatre of Performing Arts is dedicated to offering opportunities to African American professional and non professional actors, playwrights, directors and other theatre personnel. Included in our mission is having these theatre artists present their talents to our community. The theatre is committed to presenting diverse theatrical productions that expand the interest and awareness of our audience within the surrounding community and throughout Philadelphia. Our artistic goals continue to demand the best of our resources for the benefit of our community and theatre throughout the city of Philadelphia. In our Night at the Theatre, we have entertained students, parents, teachers and administrators at our productions. In 2002, we collaborated with Philadelphia’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts for a winter production of the world premiere play, “Phantom of the 87th Street Playground” by Clyde Santana and Gail Davis. The collaboration included over twenty-five students who were actors, singers and dancers. The students performed with Bushfire’s resident actors. We will continue this collaboration with new productions in the future.